When Things Go South – Big-Time
Hopefully, this is an article that isn’t relevant often – or, for the times it is relevant, it isn’t for very long. Right now, there is a worldwide health crisis that makes this subject worth exploring. And this won’t be the last crisis the world sees. Some days, it seems like there’s no good news from any quarter. An unrelenting barrage of bad news can generate a downward spiral pulled by the weight of feeling hopeless and helpless.
Who would have thought even a month ago that our lives, visited by the coronavirus (COVID-19), would take this surreal twist away from most of what we consider “normal”? When relentless dire news swallows up our lives, hope can seem distant.
It’s tempting to list optimistic platitudes designed to lift the spirits – and there may be some value in that. But most of us can see through happy thoughts as temporary measures with little lasting effect. We need to inspire and to boost our spirits, but we want it to be something solid. And “solid” likely means something different depending on your personality and your approach to the world.
Most of this article is about a shared and widespread crisis, but the suggestions can be used for more personal difficulties, especially those involving personal loss.
Ration Your Exposure
This is perhaps too obvious, but it should be mentioned right up front. If you’re dealing with a crisis, find some time to escape from the constant input of facts so you can process the information in your way and at a gentler pace. Go for a walk if you can. Or just find a quiet room and close the door. Taking a break doesn’t mean that you don’t care. Turn off the news.
Sentinels (SJ) are more likely than most personality types to feel an obligation to monitor everything and keep all the pieces in place to the best of their ability. They are also prone to burnout. Self-care can help them maintain the stamina to do the things they do in the skillful ways they generally do them.
You are probably not responsible for monitoring the news nonstop. There may be a sense that you must stay on top of all that is happening. But consider how often the media repeats things throughout the day. You’re not likely to miss much if you watch or listen to your favorite news source two or three times a day for a limited period of time. Give yourself a “news quota” and stick to it – maybe half an hour of cable news three times a day. You decide what’s best for you. And don’t worry. Between the Internet and your smartphone, if something big happens, you’ll likely get plenty of notifications. It’s usually okay to let it all go for a while.
Ask yourself about the value of staying glued to news broadcasts. And after you come to the inevitable conclusion, watch a movie or clean out a closet or do whatever seems like the best use of your time.
Your Feelings Are Legit
Any emotional reaction to the crisis you’re facing is legitimate simply because you’re feeling it. “Negative” emotional reactions are your brain and nervous system reacting to something undesirable that’s happening in your world or your imagination. Among other things, they motivate you to pull together your resources (including other people) or your defenses, to get away from something if you need to, or to slow down and proceed cautiously, should that be appropriate.
Even if you or others consider that the reasons for your feelings are “all in your imagination” or irrational, your emotions are still saying something to you, and it generally pays to listen. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to feel better and resolve your problems. But resisting what you’re feeling, rather than accepting and exploring your emotions, often just drags out the negative experience longer than it needs to be. Also, by not paying attention to your feelings, you may miss opportunities to understand yourself better.
At the extreme, some Analysts (NT) and other Thinking personality types may feel like they are betraying the rationality they value by attending to something as transient and “soft” as emotions. But emotions often hold their own kind of rationality. Thinking types would do well to find out what their feelings are saying to them. They can explore their feelings with the same logic and attention to detail that they might explore anything else that’s important to them. While that doesn’t mean that their feelings will always be processed into something that makes perfect, rational sense, Thinking personalities may be more comfortable exploring what’s going on emotionally by using a familiar, reasoned approach.
On the other hand, in extreme cases, some Diplomats (NF) and other Feeling personality types may need to guard against feeling for the sake of feeling. Feeling bad just to feel bad has the potential to unnecessarily amplify difficult emotions. Feeling types tend to speak the language of feelings, so focusing on them can help them feel more capable. Yes, all personality types would do well to accept and explore their emotions as advised above, including (maybe especially) Feeling types. But some Feeling types may need to take a step back occasionally and look at their feelings to make sure they aren’t serving as an end in themselves.
Where You’re Strong
If there are more suitable times than others to tap into the strengths common to your personality type, times like these would likely be among the most fitting. (You can find the typical strengths for your personality type in the second section of your personality type profile. If you don’t know what your personality type is, we invite you to take our free test here.)
Why focus on strengths? Dreadful news can overwhelm a person, making it nearly impossible to maintain a sense of control. In severe situations, life might take on qualities of helplessness or victimhood. Even the most competent and resilient people may feel a loss of power at such times. It’s a natural reaction, and there is no shame in feeling vulnerable. But there’s also no reason to stay in that state of vulnerability any longer than you have to.
Learning to lean into your strengths may not put you in control of everything, but it can prompt you to remember that you’re not helpless and that you still control many things. Focusing on your prime strengths, and the skills that spring from them, can restore a sense of being capable during crises. So, even if the ground is shifting around you, tapping into your strengths might provide a foothold that keeps you feeling a little steadier.
For Analysts, this might involve generating a plan for getting their life back in order. Or, they might gather information that they can share with other people. Diplomats may find a creative, spiritual way of relating to the crisis that gives them – and others – inspiration and direction. Or, they may try to monitor and raise the morale of others. Sentinels might keep everything no-nonsense and orderly. They may seek the next thing to do, rather than worry so much about the next thing that might happen. And Explorers (SP) are naturals when it comes to crises and would likely be busy marshaling resources to make the most of the situation.
Don’t Isolate When Isolating
If you’re an Introvert, the current coronavirus mass quarantine may feel like something you’ve practiced for your entire life. The enhanced capacity for solitude is a gift possessed by many Introverts. But even some Extraverts may feel relief in slowing down in isolation and finding some time for themselves. And that’s likely all good. But the less helpful desire to slink away and lick one’s wounds in private can tempt all personality types during hard times.
There is significant research from many places that suggests social interaction is a much-needed nutrient for the human psyche. Having other people around contributes significantly to the health and well-being of an individual. No matter how much it may not feel that way to some Introverts, it is true for most people.
Despite their love of solitude, most Introverted personalities have a sense that they need community – a sense of “tribe,” no matter how small that tribe might be. But some may find it too easy to isolate when stressors fill their landscapes. Other people, even people they enjoy being around, can tax a typical Introvert’s energy, and crisis-level stressors more often than not also drain those emotional resources. Since there may not be much that Introverts can do about the crisis, they may isolate themselves from others to preserve some of their energy through such means.
Not all Extraverted personalities are immune to shutting down and isolating when there is too much unwelcome news, either. However, their shutting down is likely to be more temporary than it is for Introverts. Eventually, Extraverts who go off by themselves will miss the energy they gain from being in the company of other people, and they may even see hanging out with others as a means of softening the impact of a crisis. “Well, we still have each other, and that’s a lot.”
There isn’t anything wrong with time alone. But there is a difference between wholesome solitude and isolation. Solitude can be full of life and joy, but feelings of sadness or loneliness often tinge isolation. Isolation may feel like giving up and not wanting to deal with life in all its social glory. So, take all the solitude you need or want. Just take care that being alone is about satisfaction and fulfillment and not avoidance.
Even if a crisis forces you to be alone in your house or your apartment, there are still plenty of ways to stay connected to others. Imagine being quarantined in the flu epidemic of 1918. No Internet. No cameras on every device. No texting. No emails. As rough as it is for us, thank goodness we’re not living in the early 20th century. Digital devices may not be the same as sitting across the dinner table from your best friends or a favorite sibling, but it’s not a bad substitute when you need one.
Deliberately plan some time to connect with the people in your life using the best means available. You may even want to create a “social diet plan” to include an adequate amount of social nutrients into your day. Write it into your schedule. There are hundreds of interactive things you can do with others remotely. Check out our article “Surviving Social Isolation for Your Personality Type” for some suggestions.
Look for the Good
Time for a story break. Our story is a famous Zen parable; this version is translated and curated by Paul Reps and featured in his book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (1957).
“A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!”
Talk about awful news, followed by terrible news, and topped off with dreadful news. But sometimes life can feel like that. The man in the fable was in a no-win position that was probably no fault of his own and likely led to a sad ending. Below, we’ll make a case for hope. But for now, consider the barrage of unwelcome news that sometimes accompanies a crisis. It may seem like turmoil and woe are coming from all directions. That may be the perfect time to look for your strawberry.
Finding the good in a situation differs from denying the reality of a crisis. It’s essential to recognize the truth, to accept the implications, and to process your thoughts and feelings around both. But in the middle of it all, ask yourself, “What is good? What strawberry can I pluck?”
Seeking the good in a bad situation may come more naturally to people with the Assertive Identity. They’re inclined to look for (or see) optimistic outcomes and positive features. Turbulent personalities may need to be a little more deliberate in their search for their strawberry. Perhaps writing a list of the positives still present in your life may help you find it – or maybe even a whole field of strawberries.
It’s all about balance. It’s too easy to fall into black-and-white thinking and see nothing but the dismal. Looking for the good can help return people to a more realistic perspective that doesn’t allow the negative to overshadow everything.
Seeing that there is still plenty of good in your life can bring another gift: hope. Hope is not a Pollyanna notion. While there may be no guarantee of a better day, there is usually the potential for one. Trying to look for that potential can start to heal the wounds inflicted by a crisis and motivate a person to gather their wits and start to move on. Often when a person is depressed, a common intervention is to instill a sense of possibility and hope. Hope is the magnet that draws people away from their despair and into better times.
All personality types, but especially those with the Turbulent Identity, may want to take an inventory of the positive things in their lives and envision potential positive outcomes. Spelling out visions for a brighter future in a journal can help restore a balanced view and dispel any darkness one might be feeling. That doesn’t mean denying any present reality. It just means recognizing that the future can go in many directions, and some of them might be bright.
Hang Tight. It Won’t Last Forever.
“This, too, shall pass.” You may want to write this ancient phrase down and place it somewhere prominent in your home. Of course, there are no guarantees. But there are likely outcomes. And one of the most prominent possible outcomes of the current crisis is that it will eventually unfold into a better day. Hold tightly to hope, find your strengths, and embrace the good things in your life.
How do you typically handle crises? If you’re reading this during the COVID-19 pandemic, how are you getting along? Share your thoughts below.